Behind Closed Doors

From the title, you might think this blog is about The Client List, the trashy new show on the Lifetime Channel that gives massage therapy a black eye. No such luck; the event I am referring to is the upcoming Leadership Summit #2, set to take place next week in Chicago.

The first Leadership Summit (to clarify: there were summits in 2003-04 before AFMTE and FSMTB existed) took place last September in St. Louis, with the executive directors and chairs of ABMP, AFMTE, AMTA, the Massage Therapy Foundation, FSMTB, COMTA, and NCBTMB in attendance. It was a historic event in that it was the first time all seven of these organizations had come together in the best interests of the profession. The purpose, according to the press release announcing the meeting, “was to hold a beginning conversation about major structural issues and impediments to profession progress. The desire is to have candid exchange about core challenges, quality concerns, consumer expectations and organizational roles.”

Apparently, one of the hot topics at this week’s meeting is going to be the number of required entry-level education hours. Although this was not on the agreed-upon agenda at the first meeting, it was introduced anyway by ABMP Chairman Bob Benson, complete with a thorough proposal prepared by Anne Williams, Director of Education at ABMP. Basically, the proposal was for a task force to be formed immediately, and using Job Task Analyses that have been conducted by the NCBTMB and the FSMTB, to nail down a definite number of hours that should be required for entry-level education. This was contrary to the facilitator’s recommendation—and the group’s agreement— that they would spend the initial meeting identifying problems, and would address possible solutions for these problems at meetings to follow.

In the interest of the leaders being comfortable in speaking freely, these are closed meetings—no press and no other staff members in attendance—an executive session, so to speak. Certainly not without precedent; boards have executive sessions all the time—usually to discuss personnel matters or other things that would violate someone’s privacy if they were discussed in public.

That’s not exactly the case here; and while I am thrilled that our leaders—some of whom are from competing organizations—are sitting down at the table together, my concern is that a small group of people has the power to decide (or worse, just think they have the power to decide), what is best for the profession on the whole, without getting input from the people it affects—you and me. Practitioners, school owners, teachers, CE providers, the regulatory community, all have a vested interest in the future of our profession, and I don’t think that should be decided by an exclusive group behind closed doors.

Unfortunately, that is just what the ABMP proposal states in no uncertain terms. Verbatim, Williams’ proposal stated: There is no step in this proposal to obtain input from the broader massage profession or from other health-care or bodywork organizations during this project. The reason is simple—the work group is simply performing a work task in writing learning outcomes and objectives for job tasks defined by surveys already conducted by FSMTB and NCBTMB. It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught. The work group would be responding to what therapists report they do, on a day-to-day basis, in their massage-related environments as part of their jobs.

The sentence that disturbs me there is “It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught.” Any time you start to think it doesn’t matter what stakeholders think, there’s a problem, in my humble opinion, no matter what the issue. Stakeholders are the ones it will affect, and to think their opinion isn’t important is just beyond the pale.

At the recent ABMP School Issues Forum in Austin, Texas, Bob Benson stated to those in attendance that there was 100% consensus in support of this standards-setting proposal from the organizations that attended the Leadership Summit. That’s not exactly so. COMTA, FSMTB, and AFMTE all expressed concerns after the proposal was introduced in September; they are not petty concerns, and they do not appear in any way to be based on politics or turf wars.
This is bad business for two primary reasons: First, any project that has the potential to affect the entire massage therapy profession should not be designed, approved, and launched in secret. Changing the baseline numbers of entry-level education required for state licensure is a huge thing, as it will affect schools, regulators, and future students.

By contrast, the MTBOK project modeled appropriate transparency, and the massage community had adequate opportunities for input along the way.

Second, it is more important right now that our primary stakeholder organizations learn to work together in an atmosphere of trust and cooperation—than to plunge headlong into a major problem-solving project when consensus has NOT been reached. The end does not justify the means. Some of my own issues are that the MTBOK and the competency-based curriculum standards set forth by COMTA aren’t even being given consideration. This proposal also overlooks the fact that the AFMTE is currently working on a National Teacher Standards Education Project. A huge amount of work has gone into creating both the MTBOK and the COMTA standards; a huge amount of work from some of the best educators in the business is going into the AFMTE project, and for these to be cast aside when they have direct relevance to this proposal is irresponsible to say the least.

During our troublesome economy of the past few years—and it doesn’t appear to be over yet—school owners have been seriously affected already, and having a nation-wide upheaval based on an “official” number of required hours is not the be-all end-all solution to licensing portability. It will just serve to put an additional burden into the mix at the present time. The lack of portability may be an irritant to our field, but it is not causing harm to the public.

The AMTA Board of Directors voted last October to support the project in its present form. As ABMP and AMTA are the two largest professional membership associations, they carry a big stick. That doesn’t mean their agendas should be force-fed to the profession, and I hope that they will reconsider both the timeline, and the very valid concerns raised by the other organizations before barging ahead with this project. I am certainly not saying that it never needs to happen. I am just saying it doesn’t need to happen on speed-dial until all of these issues have been ironed out. I hate to see good intentions canceled out by unchecked enthusiasm for rushing something to market; I hate to see valid concerns from the other organizations swept under the carpet; and I hate to see the opinion that what the stakeholders think doesn’t matter.

When you’re meeting behind closed doors, it’s easy to forget who the stakeholders are. I’m one of them. I’m a member of both AMTA and ABMP, a founding member of the AFMTE, a past delegate to the FSMTB, a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist & Bodyworker, an Approved Provider under the NCBTMB, and a current site reviewer for COMTA, so I do indeed have a vested interest. I don’t appreciate our national organizations acting as if my opinion and that of the other thousands of massage therapists, school owners, and others who enable your very existence on this planet don’t matter.

At this week’s Summit, the representatives of these seven organizations have an opportunity to address this issue that has divided the group, and to get their process back on track. I hope that they also remember the responsibility that they have to their own members, and to the profession as a whole. To use ABMP’s own slogan here, we “Expect More” from our leaders.

35 thoughts on “Behind Closed Doors

  1. So where is our petition Now? so who else is on this committee? How can I (we ) contact them? This is exactly how the NCE was created the first time – with little to no input from the community. It was supposed to be an amta entry exam and it turned into a national exam. It was just arbitrarily determined by whoever showed up. While a job task analysis is a good place to start – it does not show what is effective. I think an actual research study is in order to study schools, their curriculum, students grades and if they are successful as a MT when they graduate. How many are practicing 1 year later, 10 years later. That’s just my theory anyways?

  2. “It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught.”

    Wow. At least they’re honest about where they stand, but where they stand is undefensible.

  3. Thank you Laura for keeping us posted!

    This is just another ‘governing’ agency that takes power and control over the people. What is going on here?

    You are so correct in stating that school owners have been greatly effected and many of the best private ones have had to close unfortunately. CE providers are being effected too and students are getting less in their education in many schools.

    I have heard in my career that we are a ‘spiritual’ community. Spiritual communities “communicate”. They resolve issues together. They work together to find the greater good for all, not just a few.

    Makes me wonder if our organizations are forgetting what is truly at Stake here and for whom?

    Each time a ‘new’ organization starts they want to help the massage profession. So how do they see ‘controlling’ things without our input helps anything. I have personally answered some of their surveys, which are usually inadequately worded and quite honestly, not worth the time.

    I had hoped and wished some of our top leaders who work diligently on these boards, would not sell out. I had hoped they would raise the bar and standards and stand by the massage profession.

    I will put some good vibes out there that this meeting will bring some well kneaded resolutions to enhance our profession ~~ not raise fees, but raise standards!

    I am concerned, as well, as a provider how the impact of these changes may put some of us out of business. I am concerned that states are getting involved and creating their own agenda and many of us are limited where we can teach now. Why aren’t our organizations creating an equal standard for their educators?

    Seriously, I came from a non-licensed state originally and we had less problems, less fees and more cooperation amongst ourselves. Just saying ~~~

  4. I do have to differ with you on one thing, though, Laura:

    “By contrast, the MTBOK project modeled appropriate transparency, and the massage community had adequate opportunities for input along the way.”

    This is not consistent with the way that issues with the way they mischaracterized energy were handled.

    Dissent with their choosing the pseudoscientific concept, instead of attempting to integrate with evidence-based health science, was basically dropped into a black hole without any feedback.

    The finished document says only that decisions were taken in an “appropriate” way, without any indication of what defined “appropriate”, how much the dissent was actually discussed, if at all, and similar problems.

    They claimed to be transparent in their process, but how they handled disagreement really wasn’t.

  5. I too am totally flabbergasted about this! ABMP previously approached this group as a way to build collaboration and consensus. This latest proclamation totally contradicts this. I hope that Su and Pete (along with representatives from other organizations) get this group back on track.

  6. Laura, I completely agree with you on this! This blatant disregard of caring what the majority of the industry thinks and the work that dedicated professionals have invested into projects like the MTBOK and NTSEP is disrespectful and is poor judgment in my book. Let’s hope they receive this message loud and clear!

  7. Okay, Laura. You really stirred the pot this time.

    First of all, these folks can get together and elect the pope — doesn’t mean they actually have the ability to put the guy in the Vatican. Even though FSMTB is coming to the table, it’s still completely dependent on the state boards as to whether the board thinks those changes are warranted.

    Secondly, if the last 3 years of attending our NC Board of Massage meetings is any indication, even if the sitting board members did accept what comes out of this summit meeting, they aren’t going to be super excited to open the state practice act and ask for an adjustment — which has been the issue with a great many things that should have been corrected since its inception, but have not. No one wants to open a can of worms that will, literally, take an act of Congress (in this case state congress) to close again.

    Thirdly, I think you’re right in that this summit seems to be getting off on the wrong foot before it’s begun. They’re tilting at windmills that don’t really seem to exist, yet.

    I’m glad to see all of the major players being invited to and coming to the table. We need this, badly. However, it does smell somewhat of the old days of NCBTMB/AMTA and a woman who shall remain nameless. Strength in numbers does not give one the right to attempt to bully everyone under their purview. IMHO.

  8. Ugh. I have a headache. This reeks of an old boys’ club. Here I am, trying, from my own bootstraps, to help invoke what could be a major change in how something is taught, and they don’t think it matters. Puh-lease. Why do I pay my professional fees again?

  9. Holy Canoli!! Ay caramba! Oy vey!

    Thank you Laura for your fine reporting on this matter. I find it hard to believe the blatant “slap in the face” sense of this action. I really don’t feel supported by this kind of intention as a therapist, an educator or a school owner. My input does not matter- I am stunned!!!

    This is the last thing I expected from the ABMP. I have truly appreciated their innovation and commitment to excellance in the past. But this time, they seem to have gotten a head full of themselves to feel they can determine who matters in a discussion affecting so many from so many factions of our profession.

    First of all, there is an abundance of more pressing issues to be addressed before this one that will truly support the profession as a whole. Issues like a model practice act to support portability, core subject areas to establish basic knowledge and skills to be required and standards for educators to support quality of what is presented. Until there is consensus about what should be included in a curriculum, what are you looking at for consideration of hours?

    And when the time is right to approach the idea of basic hours requirements, there has been some powerful and well intended efforts already put forth that should serve as the basis for any such discussion (MTBOK, COMTA standards, etc). These seem to be totally swept aside as useless old news. While the job task analysis should be included, to limit the focus to only these is to give all the power to the reportings of people in the field, a seriously flawed and terribly limited view. These responses reflect those activities of the experienced therapist. This does not necessarily reflect what should serve as entry level education. And to assume that this can be discussed in any rational and productive way without including the folks in the trenches of education is like attempting a detailed artistic masterpiece in total darkness.

    I truly hope the efforts, time and expense of all the organizations who gather here is focused on the true, most pressing issues facing our profession and not just the ones favored by one group. It was just plain hubris to state that there is 100% agreement behind this intention when at least three of the organizations included clearly do not agree Please do not spend this precious opportunity on discordant issues that are not agreed upon by all.

  10. What are they afraid of that they want to hold this meeting in secret?

    An idea that is worthy will withstand scrutiny in the light of day.

  11. Wow! And we pay fees yearly so they can blatantly, openly, and unreservedly ignore us, the stakeholders…. To serve their own personal ends?

    Every new organization, that is striving to do what the one before could not, charges a fee and where there were state tests there are multiple national tests that also charge a fee, have different CE requirements which also cost, and teaching certificates cost and national teaching certificates cost, and…. Has anyone noticed the economy lately?

    And now in a secret meeting each competing agency will decide on a common goal to make everyone happy, inspire all the states to adopt this wonderful solution, and do away with the duplicate testing plus the extraneous organizations will volunteer to fold up so that one or two glorious organizations will carry the best intentions for the entire profession….in a pigs eye!

    Steph, your headache is contagious.

  12. Laura, I believe the section you quoted is from an older version of the proposal. We have a revised version which has more opportunities for input from the community, although it is still a DRAFT proposal and we are working on the details. I am on my way to the meeting right now and looking forward to a productive session of addressing this project as well as many other concerns.

  13. If that offensive statement has been removed, that’s a good thing—but this has NOT been released to “the community,” and until it is, it is still “behind closed doors.”

  14. If the COMTA Standards, the MTBOK, and the AFMTE Teacher Standards Project get included in this project, I will be glad to blog the good news, too.

  15. Awesome job of reporting this outrageous initiative by ABMP. This is a “Just Do Something” effort that will NOT lead to any improvement in our profession or increased portability. What good are learning objectives to a teacher corps that does not understand them? All clock hours numbers are dartboard numbers chosen for school operators convenience and to facilitate access to Federal Student Aid, not to provide an education for a competent therapist. To pick one to be a standard still has no validity. To do so from new job-task analysis date alone is asking those how don’t know what they don’t know what others should know. It is a spiraling down of our knowledge-base. This is a cart before the horse project. I urge all other stakeholders to fight this tooth and toenail and do everything possible to get the Summit back on its original brilliant track of identifying the problems we face and creating protocols for all stakeholders to work together constructively.

    Keep up the great work you do Laura!

  16. Thanks, Laura. I love that you are connected and grounded and even in your presentation of controversial things. We are a better profession because you keep us connected and informed.

    I am going to take another approach to this and remind us that this Leadership group is primarily made up of volunteers, well-meaning people trying to advance our profession. It is important that we share our thoughts and feelings with them so they can better represent us in their work on our behalf. And, it might be good to see if what we hear is what they really mean.

    I have no idea of the goings on here except what I just read in the blog. that said, I am going to venture to guess that perhaps Ann/Bob do not feel the need to vet this project’s outcome because they are using existing stakeholder’s input. The stakeholders, in this case, have already had their say.

    That said, a bully’s approach is never well-received and always invites controversy, regardless of the good intent behind it. We can all learn better communication skills. And there is always room to invite, hear, and respond to feedback.

  17. I disagree that the stakeholders input as already been considered. Yes, many of us fill out the surveys they send. Many don’t, because they don’t understand what they are. And regardless, we don’t have input on the questions asked. What if the right questions weren’t asked? There could be valuable information being overlooked by disregarding any additional commentary by general LMTs.

  18. Thank you Laura for bringing this situation to a broader populations attention. I would have to say I agree with Diana’s reply. I do wish a link was provided to read in it’s entirety the proposal. Is it suggesting an increase from the current standard of 500 hrs?

  19. Actually, only half of them are volunteers….the other half (the executives) are compensated handsomely–with the probably exception being the AFMTE–as a new organization they’re not in the financial position to pay out big bucks.

    There is no link to the proposal, which was my main problem with it. It wasn’t released for comment from the profession. There was not a specific hour proposed; that is what they are looking at.

  20. Thank you Laura for your diligence into this subject matter.

    Personally, a single national entity rather than dealing with, what feels like, endless research for applications, renewals, and payments to individual states in order to be able to be in this profession, let alone an NCBTMB approved teaching member is much needed. I see my profession has become one more way government and the organizations governing it can make money by regulating us and all the while we are not any closer as stakeholders than we were 10 years ago to being given the deserved recognition for our skill based contribution from our society within the healthcare field.

    Our profession has suffered as a whole during this crisis’s of identity. I continue to wait for support from any board to advance our recognition of this profession of massage therapy into the 21st century. Working side by side with doctors and CAM health care providers as it’s done in other countries is apparently an ideal here in the US. We have organizations that contend they have our best interest are squabbling, at best, over semantics and the number of required ethics hours; really?! Let’s not go backwards any further, please, for the sake of those of us that are still remotely interested in some type of structure.

    As a practitioner of massage over fifteen years I feel I am being forced to move onto another profession to get the professional support required to work within our health care system as it is set up now. Why are we not a more dynamic force within the health care system as it is verses debating ethics requirements; general education requirements etc?

    Basic understanding of who we are as a profession and how we contribution to the health and well being of our society is undervalued, and I hold all of these boards (volunteer or otherwise) responsible for not putting the needs of this profession over the need to regulate it. Why are these boards not out in the forefront as a liaison to providers of major CAM educators? Why is it that I am consistently reminding my clients who happen to be doctors and nurses as well as physical therapist that yes, our profession is necessary and important?

    I am one practitioner; as organizations that I have entrusted by way of compliance and professional dues, please tell us what has been done to push us along besides new organizations being formed with more regulations? What would Leon Chaitow, ND, DO think about us now? All of his work and effort within our profession; we can’t even wrap our heads around our future because we are bickering over regulations?

    Are we going to get caught up in the cycle of repeating senseless acts of mental gymnastics or we going to help this profession by getting this field recognized in the US? We have hired you and I don’t want an apology; I want action. I realize all good things take time which is why I have given ten years of my active professional dues.

    I am choosing to no longer pay into any of these organizations until action is taken to move our profession into the 21st century. Those of you who have read thus far, thank your time and please feel free to check out NAMASTA -an insurer based in California who state they are a cooperative with the interest of its payees. At the very least your insured until these groups can get it together to deserve our hard earned admiration and more importantly our financial support.

  21. I want to thank Johanna Kenworthy for her fresh voice and level headed contribution to this discussion.

    Recently, a blog I wrote was removed from the WIBB Blog by Massage Today, without word one as to why. The Blog was in part, me expressing my grievances that politics, alignment and money seem to consistently deter progress in our profession and it negatively affects Massage Therapists, the very people paying for the lifestyles of those that make the rules. I used an example of how a Make A Wish recipient, fourteen year old Stephan left the AMC awards having not reached his $10,000 goal after witnessing a room full of “massage royalty” watch on (myself included) as our chosen Humanitarian gave a massage foundation the AMC’s money. The child went home, largely forgotten. The example stands despite how great the foundation donated to is or how giving the Humanitarian is. People in this industry are losing their day to day compassion for the “little people” (anyone not in the power clique) because of being caught up in their own agendas and industry politics and popularity parties. I’ve seen it time and time again and have a book full of examples (you were just added to the memoir Massage Today) but that one was “the straw that broke the camels back”. I shared my truth, and was ever-so-politically correct about it, and was silenced.

    At the end of the day there is a “big boys club” at work here as Steph pointed out. This club makes the very decisions that stack more and more regulations and fees on the backs of Massage Therapists who are inadequately provided the business training necessary to thrive in the market place upon graduation and find themselves herded into costly associations and CE requirements. Most find nothing but an empty purse and a bad case of debilitating burnout at the end of the line.

    Volunteers do the “right thing” and work tirelessly for causes that don’t end up for the best interests of Massage Therapists. Innovators try to enter the market place with products, information and education that can help the average MTs and are largely ignored (some are bullied) because the industry alignments have long since been set. Allowing new innovation in will offend a small group of the old guard. The ones who’s “power flexing” by the look of things, isn’t helping out Massage Therapists lives much. Not since I’ve been in the business, anyway. Things have gotten worse for us since 1995, from what I’ve seen. This is largely because of the greedy “old boys” in this industry. The men and women who haven’t massaged a body in years (or ever) but are deemed the “experts” of Massage Therapy, anyway.

    We now have Chicago allowing MTs to not work in a salon environment within city limits, Florida losing PIP, Washington defining it a kickback and an illegal offense to give your client a free massage for their referrals, and California forcing MTs to post the definition of “human trafficking” on their massage business wall, rather then jailing the very people who are involved with human trafficking. We are being legislated out of our livelihoods And the Massage Therapists pay to be protected from this. While people sit around and designate each other the decision makers and say that it really doesn’t matter what the Massage Therapists want as it is in their best interest to do as they are told. Well, take a look around. It’s in no one’s best interests but the ones making the rules, and even they are beginning to worry about their purse strings as we enter a new age, where hierarchy falls from its own devices.

    Why do I lately get the sense that the people who pay for all of this, the Massage Therapists are but mere inconveniences to the people who set the rules? That they need to just shut up and put up? Perhaps because of statements like “It doesn’t matter what stakeholders, or other groups think should be taught or shouldn’t be taught.”. Thats why. There is a blatant undercurrent in this industry that the Massage Therapists don’t really matter (other then pre-selected groups (friends and members) which don’t necessarily represent the entire community) as well as a disdain for anyone that does not join these cliquey clubs in order to remain neutral and unbiased and better able to serve Massage Therapists from an untainted standpoint.

    Each of us needs to stop talking about making difference and do it. While voices like mine are silenced, innovators are ignored, and Massage Therapists like Johanna are pushed out of their profession by higher costs, more restrictions and lower wages… everyone sits and talks, and talks, and talks… Make it happen people! But make it happen for the people who pay your bills… the Massage Therapists. Remember us?

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  25. Johanna Kenworthy, thank you for your reply to Laura’s Blog. I agree with you 100% and I also chose to no longer pay into any of these organizations until action is taken to move our profession into the 21st century. Thank you Laura for keeping the focus on this issue.

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